Emmanuel Karagiannis: Mediterranean Oil and Gas Discoveries Could Change Regional Alignments, Global Energy EquationAugust 6, 2012 By Keenan Dillard
“The discovery of gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean comes at a time when world demand for energy is growing rapidly and many are questioning the reliability of supplies from North Africa and the Middle East,” said Emmanuel Karagiannis, assistant professor of Russian and post-Soviet politics at the University of Macedonia, in an interview at the Wilson Center.The newly-discovered fields contain about 122 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas reserves, 25 trillion of which are located within Israeli territorial waters. “That’s twice the reserves Libya has,” according to Karagiannis. The remaining fields have been claimed by the Republic of Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Syria, and Lebanon.
Europe currently depends on Russia for most of its gas supplies, so the new fields could provide an “important alternative source for European economies,” said Karagiannis.
The discovery also has the potential to increase stability in the region by serving as an incentive for nations to work together. “For example, Israel and Cyprus have come closer to each other in many respects, including military cooperation,” Karagiannis said. Greece and Israel have also strengthened their relationship, in part due to the historical relationship between Cyprus and Greece but also because the latter could serve as an energy hub to transport gas throughout Europe, he said. “In effect Israel, Greece, and Cyprus could form a new axis of stability in the region.”
“Turkey can also play a significant part in the business of transporting energy resources to Europe,” Karagiannis said, but Syria and Lebanon, the two other countries that lie adjacent to the newly discovered gas reserves, are less likely to benefit in the near future from the find, given their current political circumstances. “It’s very difficult to imagine their participation in the regional energy projects,” he said. Lebanon has tried and failed to sell offshore exploratory licenses twice due to its lack of a state petroleum administration, while the current uprising against President Bashar al-Assad is preventing any progress in Syria.
In part as a result of these political challenges, the gas fields also have the potential to generate conflict in the region. There will be a divide between “haves and have-nots,” explained Karagiannis. According to a report by the Institute for National Strategic Studies, “piping Israeli gas to the RoC [Republic of Cyprus] and then onto Turkey, which could be the gateway to the European market, is unlikely due to current tensions between Ankara, the RoC, and Tel Aviv.” Since the discovery of the fields, “Turkey has already issued military threats against Cyprus in order to stop the gas exploration process that is currently taking place in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone,” Karagiannis said. The Israeli government issued a response to the threat, stating that they are committed to protecting energy infrastructure in the region.
The first new natural gas field in the region is expected to begin full-scale production this year, with two additional fields coming on-line over the next six years.
Keenan Dillard is a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point and an intern with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program.
Sources: Institute for National Strategic Studies, Noble Energy Inc., Turkish Weekly, U.S. Geological Survey.